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Digestive issues aren’t just uncomfortable, they also affect your total well-being. One in three U.S. adults has a digestive disease—and the rest of us have periodic bouts of heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating. Here, you’ll find guides to common digestive issues as well as healthy habits and supplements that can help get your digestion—and wellness—back on track.
9 habits for healthy digestion
Decrease stress. Stress can spike inflammation, increase indigestion, and worsen existing digestive conditions. To reduce stress, make a point to exercise, eat a balanced diet (see below), develop a spiritual practice, cultivate a support network, and get plenty of sleep. Try deep-belly breathing for general relaxation and to control anger and anxiety, says Sierpina.
Downsize meals. Trick yourself by using a salad plate, and eat until you feel almost full.
Don’t eat before bedtime. Lying down with a full stomach can push stomach contents back toward the esophagus, resulting in reflux, Vrablic says.
Eat more fiber.“The average person gets about half as much fiber as she should,” Lipski says. Aim for 25 to 30 grams daily. It encourages more regular bowel movements, keeps blood sugar more even, and acts as fuel for probiotics.
Adopt a Mediterranean diet. Focus on anti-inflammatory, fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. (If raw vegetables give you trouble, cook them before eating.) Choose lean proteins and healthy fats, including cold-water fish, like salmon. Eat red meat infrequently.
Eat bananas. “They’re soothing and have an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut,” which is helpful for GERD, says Sierpina.
Eat mindfully. “When we say grace, it stops us and says, ‘I’m here eating, and I’m thankful for this moment,’” and also helps lower our heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels, Lipski says. Notice the color, the aroma, and the texture of each bite before placing it in your mouth, Sierpina recommends. Try this for one meal a day, until it becomes habitual.
Chew food well. You’ll activate enzymes in your mouth that help break down carbohydrates, giving stomach acids time to work and minimizing the burden on the rest of the GI tract.
Try an elimination diet. If you think you have a food sensitivity, keep a food diary for at least three days, recording everything you eat and any effects you notice. Symptoms may come on rapidly, or may not manifest for up to 12 hours. Once you’ve identified the most likely food culprits, eliminate them for two to three weeks, Sierpina suggests. If symptoms improve, gradually add the foods back in, one at a time. Eat the test foods at least twice a day, he says.